Who notifies the fire brigade if there’s a fire in our block?
Management company seems deterred by the €500 call-out fee, and fire system check is long overdue
911 Fire Alarm
Back in July, the alarm went off throughout our apartment building about 1pm. My partner, who was home at the time, tried to figure out if it was a real fire, but he could see no sign of one. Because it was during the day, and most people are at work, he wasn’t convinced that it was entirely safe to ignore it. He rang the leasing agent and the property management company for advice.
They both advised him they didn’t know if it was safe to stay in the building, and ringing the Fire Brigade would result in a €500 call-out fee. He was also told it would be several hours before an engineer came out to check whether it was a false alarm or a fault in the system.
In the meantime, I rang the property management company and asked if there had been a real fire and no one had called, then how would the fire brigade know to call out or how would they know to send an engineer if it was a false alarm?
They cited various expenses involved in having a signal sent directly to themselves and Dublin city fire brigade etc and they made it clear they weren’t willing to do this.
It was four hours before they sent someone out. I checked the building’s firebox when I got home to see if there were any faults, but all green lights were showing. However, it looked like no one had checked the box in over a year. The last date on the fire alarms system log book is February 2nd, 2017.
Is it legal or not to have a system in place which informs the property management company and or the fire brigade of alarms going off? And is the fire system log check up to date - it seems like 18 months is a massive gap?
Firstly, false alarms to fire detection systems can be caused by many issues such as equipment faults, malicious activations to the proverbial burnt toast.
False alarms can be a major hazard to any detection system since they lead to loss of confidence in the system. If false alarms are occurring on a regular basis there may be an underlying issue which should be investigated by the company responsible for maintaining the system.
It is important that any alarm from the system is treated as an alarm of fire until it can be proved to be false. Any delay in reporting an alarm could be detrimental to the development but more significantly its occupants and any resident should not be deterred by the €500 call-out fee where a risk to life may be present.
For a fire alarm to go off and an occupant not to investigate if there is a fire, and not to notify the fire brigade if required, would expose other occupants to danger and be a contravention of the Fire Services Act.
The protection of people in a multi-occupied building is not just the duty of the Owners Management Company (OMC) but all of the occupants.
Secondly, there is no legal requirement for a detection system to be in direct communication with the property management company or fire brigade. The requirement for this type of system is generally assessed at the design stage and based on a risk assessment of the development.
While this type of system is available through connection to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) or directly to the Fire Brigade depending on their policy, this would be uncommon in a multi-unit residential development, and would apply more to unoccupied buildings. Mainly because there is usually someone in a residential development that can notify the fire brigade once an alarm is activated.
In multi-unit developments the OMC are in control of the development and therefore responsible for ensuring all procedures are in place to protect the occupants in the event of a fire.
These procedures under the Fire Services Act are a statutory requirement and should include a procedure for raising the alarm; for calling the fire brigade; an evacuation procedure; an assembly point and roll call procedure; a procedure for fighting the fire and for assisting the fire brigade. All residents should be aware of these procedures.
As outlined above this must make the occupants aware that it is their duty to notify the fire brigade of a fire.
Finally, as noted in your query, the last date logged in the log book was February 2nd, 2017. This would be a serious cause for concern as the detection system, emergency lighting and fire extinguishers - all vital in protecting the occupant’s safety - do not appear to have been maintained to the required standard.
A competent contractor should be commissioned to carry out quarterly and annual testing and repairs to all safety systems to ensure they are maintained to the required standard.
It is recommended that during the quarterly or periodic service a percentage of the detection devices be tested such that at the end of the annual period all devices have been tested. The cost for maintaining this system would be included in your service charge and therefore should be attended to.
Christopher Duffy, Chartered Building Surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie